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Q/A: Advice from Medill grads turned marketing professors

While many IMC graduates go on to careers at big advertising agencies or marketing firms, some end up returning to the classroom —but this time, as professors. We sat down with Beth Barnes (MSJ81), director of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky; Valerie Jones (IMC05), assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Mark Pacchini (MSJ80), adjunct lecturer at Medill IMC to find out how their studies at Northwestern played a role in their teaching styles and lesson plans today.  

Q: What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from Medill IMC?

A: Valerie Jones: The idea of being consumer-centric and data-driven were fundamental tenets of the IMC program. It’s definitely influenced the way I teach and what I teach. I think that any student who’s had a class with me would talk about how I preach about the importance of always understanding the consumer and thinking about how to add value in their lives [while] supporting everything with some degree of data.

A: Mark Pacchini: Medill did a good job of expanding our minds. It was a great learning experience after undergrad. I really appreciated the case studies and digging into learning more about consumers and what made them tick, and understanding the benefits of strategic analysis.

Q: How did your IMC professors stand out when you were a student?

A: Jones: I liked how my marketing professors always brought in both their professional and academic experiences. Many of them were also consulting and doing professional work and that made it feel real and not just like an ivory tower.

A: Pacchini: We were pretty spoiled. Professors brought a real-world perspective and they inspired me in the sense that I want to share my real world experiences with the students. There are things that happen in the real world—people get fired, budgets get cut—those kinds of things that the students need to experience and prepare for.

Q: Why teach marketing at the college level?

A: Beth Barnes: I was always planning on working in advertising, and when I was given the opportunity to try teaching [at Medill], I found that I really liked it. I had some really great teachers at Northwestern and Medill, many of whom served as inspiration for me. A lot of what I do now as director of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky draws on what they did in their classes.

A: Pacchini: I give Northwestern a lot of credit—it opens a lot of doors, it’s a great school and if I can give back, if I can help out today’s students with what I learned and give them a leg-up, I think that’s a big benefit. If I can share 34 years of experience with the students, I think that’s great.

Q: Why is it important to have strong marketing skills today?

A: Barnes: Today, everybody has a presence online or on social media, so it’s important to think about position and brand image. Even if I hadn’t stayed in the field, I would still be using the knowledge I gained at Medill.

A: Pacchini: We live in a society now which is getting more service-oriented. With that comes a lot more marketing and advertising. It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate your brand or company from the competition, and it gets down to your marketing capabilities, your advertising capabilities, your ability to communicate what’s different about your company. There’s a lot of great ideas out there, but if you can’t execute and if you can’t deliver at a very high level, you’re not going to succeed.   

Q: What’s your best advice for students hoping to pursue a career in marketing or communications?

A: Jones: Be thinking about the consumer-centric and data-driven nature of advertising, and be thinking about how you can actually add value to the consumer—not just beat them into submission. Think about how you can care about something that they care about in an authentic way, and help to influence them in that manner.

A: Barnes: Be diligent. Marketing and communications are not like other fields where there is a set recruiting period. Have confidence in yourself, be willing to take an internship after graduation. There will always be a place for people with problem-solving skills and creativity.

A: Pacchini: Execution and attitude are key. I think execution is the result of having a positive, can-do attitude. And you’ve got to be ready to face a lot of no’s— in marketing, you have to have the perseverance, you have to have the resilience to bounce back and not be inflexible but stick to your beliefs and have some resolve.

Interested in learning about the IMC curriculum and how the programs shape successful marketing communications professionals? Learn more about Medill IMC.